Biology Research Intensives

The Biomechanics and Evolution of Mammals

The Dumont lab can host two students.

Mammals live in many different places including trees (monkeys), the ocean (dolphins and whales), the air (bats) and even live underground (moles and naked mole rats). Our lab studies the evolution and biomechanics of mammals, especially as they relate to feeding and locomotion (movement).

One project focusses on the evolution of the teeth and jaws in the very earliest fossil mammals. We investigate feeding in these fossils by studying the form and function of teeth and jaws in both living and extinct mammals. The student will help gather data from specimens in the UMass Natural History Collections, and learn statistical analysis, digital photography and mammalian anatomy. This project will help us understand how the extinction of the dinosaurs affected mammal evolution.


The second project focusses on the biomechanics of burrowing in moles. Here we study the form and function of the unique forelimbs (arms) of moles to better understand how they are able to borrow through even very hard soil. The student will participate in fieldwork in the local area, experiments that measure the strength of moles’ forelimbs, 3D animation of forelimb movements and statistical analysis. Understanding how moles burrow could help future researchers build better robots for search and rescue.  

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Plant, Soil & Insect Sciences Research

The Adler lab can host two students and will provide a partial scholarship of $500. 

This lab focuses on field ecology and centers around studying how plants and insects interact in the natural world, with an emphasis on pollinators that are crucial for the functioning of natural ecosystems and the production of food worldwide, and on animals that consume plants and plant defenses against consumption. Research in this area includes ecology, evolution, insect behavior, agriculture, and plant chemistry. Students will gain hands-on experience conducting an independent research project involving plants and species interactions in the field or laboratory.

PI, Lynn Adler

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Research in Developmental Neurobiology

The Karlstrom lab can host two students and uses the zebrafish as a model organism to better understand the molecular and cellular mechanisms that guide vertebrate brain development.

This research experience will include working with zebrafish as a genetic and embryological system to examine how the brain and pituitary gland form in the embryo. Students will identify mutant and/or transgenic fish and look inside the developing brain using fluorescent microscopy. More information can be found here.

PI, Rolf Karlstrom  

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Two laboratories in the Biology Department work on cancer and stem cells:

The Lee laboratory and the Markstein laboratory


Cancer Etiology and Stem Cell Biology

The Lee lab can host one student.  

This lab focuses on understanding cytoskeletal dynamics that lead to proper mitosis — the division of one cell into two — in order to  understand how and what could go wrong in cancer. Members of the lab currently use the model organism budding yeast and cultured mammalian cells to understand the role of the mitotic motor protein dynein, a multifunctional cellular Nano machine required for proper segregation of chromosomal DNA. The summer project involves characterizing the effects of a novel Protein Phosphatase 2A subunit that appear to regulate the dynein motor via inhibiting its motor activity along cytoskeletal polymer.

PI, Wei-Lih Lee

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Modeling Stem Cell Cancer in a multicellular animal

The Markstein laboratory can host two students.

In the Markstein laboratory we use the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster to learn about the biology of cancer stem cells. Fruit flies may seem like a strange model system to study cancer because in the wild fruit flies do not get cancer. However, in the laboratory, fruit flies have become one of the most powerful genetic systems to learn about the biology of cancer and to discover anti-cancer drugs. For example, most of the major genetic pathways known to cause cancer in humans were first identified in the fruit fly. Two examples are the Wingless pathway which is mutated in most human colon cancers and the Notch pathway which is mutated in most cases of childhood and adult leukemia.

In our laboratory we force fruit flies to get cancer by giving them transgenes that express human cancer-causing oncogenes, and then we find ways to “cure” the cancer, both genetically and chemically. We are currently making new tools to express transgenes in fruit fly stem cells and invite up to two high school students in the effort to build these tools.

Students will be involved in the development of new tools for cancer stem cell research that test DNA sequences for their ability to turn on the expression of genes in Drosophila stem cells. Students will learn about Genetics, Transgenic Expression Systems, Dissection, Fluorescence microscopy with GFP (green fluorescence protein).

PI, Michele Markstein

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Genetic Mechanisms of Plant Biofuel Attributes

The Hazen lab can host one student. 

Plant biomass can be converted to biofuels but this processes is hampered by costly inefficiencies. The Hazen lab is interested in understanding the molecular mechanisms of plant cell wall biosynthesis.  We seek to apply this knowledge to modify energy crops for improved biofuels attributes such as increased biomass and digestibility. We use a small grass species, Brachypodium distachyon, as a model system for genetic and developmental studies. The proposed project will involve identifying mutants by genotyping, measuring gene expression, and looking for developmental defects. This presents a great opportunity to learn molecular biology techniques and to develop an appreciation for plant biology.

PI, Samuel Hazen

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Mechanism of Mitosis in Mammalian Cells

The Wadsworth lab can host one student.  

Many human cancer cells have abnormal numbers of chromosomes, a condition known as Aneuploidy. Inhibitors of the mitotic motor are in clinical trials as potential cancer therapeutic agent and a  better understanding of how cell division is regulated in normal cells may aid in understanding how cell division is altered in malignant cancer cells and the work in this lab is focused on understanding the cellular structure responsible for chromosome segregation during mitosis. Current work is aimed at understanding how Eg5 is regulated throughout mitosis. Students will work with mammalian cells and learn to use molecular biological methods to generate mutations and other proteins to understand their contribution to spindle assembly and function.

PI, Pat Wadsworth

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The Cellular Basis of Hearing: Biophysics of Hair Cells

The Li lab can host one student.

The performance of hair cells in the vertebrate auditory system is awe-inspiring even by the standards of modern physics. At their apical end, the hair bundles can sense a movement as small as 0.3 nanometers. At their basal end, they can relay auditory signal to the brain with a temporal precision up to 10 microseconds. In this lab students will learn to use electrophysiological techniques to study the biophysical properties of hair cells in bullfrog hearing organs. Students will learn to make whole-cell patch-clamp recordings on hair cells and characterize voltage-gated ion channels on them. The knowledge we gain from this research project could potentially lead to a better design of cochlear implants, which are widely used to restore hearing for profoundly deaf patients.

More information can be found HERE

PI, Geng-Lin Li